Beyond The Box Score: Red-hot Rubio rips Timbers in 3-0 rout

Dominant from start to finish, Sporting Kansas City cruised past the Portland Timbers on Saturday to secure their third straight shutout victory and remain just three points behind first-place FC Dallas in the Western Conference.

Forward Diego Rubio, fresh off a convincing performance in last weekend's 2-0 road defeat of Los Angeles Football Club, stayed hot Saturday night before a sold-out crowd at Children's Mercy Park, finding the back of the net in the 28th and 37th minutes before substitute Johnny Russell bagged an emphatic third in the dying embers of a one-sided affair.

Rubio staked his name as man of the match with his second career MLS brace while also creating a pair of chances and completing 87 percent of his passes. Normally deployed as a substitute for most of the season thus far — he leads MLS with four goals from off the bench — the Chilean embraced his starting role on Saturday and, in doing so, began to make a serious argument as one of the league's most efficient attackers in 2018.

The table below lists the combined goal and assist totals of MLS players with fewer than 450 minutes played this season. Among them, Rubio's 10 combined goals (six) and assists (four) are six more than any other player.

MLS GOALS + ASSISTS FOR PLAYERS WITH
LESS THAN 450 MINUTES PLAYED IN 2018

Player Total Goals Assists Minutes
Diego Rubio (SKC) 10 6 4 448
Jonathan Lewis (NYC) 4 1 3 181
Kevin Molino (MIN) 3 2 1 140
Kevin Kratz (ATL) 3 2 1 431
Shkelzen Gashi (COL) 3 1 2 374

Rubio has also made the most of his somewhat limited opportunities, having started five of 14 MLS appearances in 2018. Remarkably enough, his 60.0 scoring percentage currently ranks as the second-highest in MLS history in a single season. That number is computed by dividing Rubio's goal total (six) by his shot attempt total (10), yielding a staggering 60-percent scoring clip.

SINGLE-SEASON SCORING PERCENTAGE LEADERS
MLS REGULAR SEASON (ALL-TIME, MIN. 5 GOALS)

# Year Player Team Shots Goals Scoring %
1 2013 Lloyd Sam New York Red Bulls 7 5 71.4%
2 2018 Diego Rubio Sporting KC 10 6 60%
2 2006 Claudio Suarez Chivas USA 10 6 60%
4 2006 Craig Waibel Houston Dynamo 12 5 41.7%
5 2009 Jaime Moreno D.C. United 22 9 40.9%

"He’s played very well in the last two games," Sporting KC Manager Peter Vermes said after the match. "Tonight, he was on fire. He got really good balls in and around the box. That’s where his area of operation is – around the goal. Tonight, he had good movement and he was clinical on his finishing."

Rubio may have stolen the show with a comprehensive outing up top, but Vermes might be even more encouraged by the fact that his team has posted three straight shutout victories after hemorrhaging goals throughout the month of July.

This mark of victory-laden stinginess has reached rarefied levels, as Sporting KC now owns three consecutive clean sheet wins in a single season for the fifth time in club history. This feat was first reached in 2000, 2007, 2012 and 2013. The top entry in the table below shows a four-game shutout winning streak that straggled two seasons, with two games at the end of 2011 and two at the start of 2012.

SPORTING KC: THREE STRAIGHT SHUTOUT WINS OR MORE
(MLS REGULAR SEASON, ALL-TIME)

# Dates Opponents Result
4 10/10/2011 to 03/17/2012 vs. NY
at DC
at DC
vs. NE
W 2-0
W 1-0
W 1-0
W 3-0
3 05/13/2000 to 05/20/2000 vs. NY
vs. DC
vs. SJ
W 2-0
W 2-0
W 2-0
3 04/25/2007 to 05/05/2007 vs. TOR
at TOR
vs. CLB
W 3-0
W 1-0
W 1-0
3 04/01/2012 to 04/14/2012 at CHV
vs. LA
vs. RSL
W 1-0
W 1-0
W 1-0
3 03/30/2013 to 04/17/2013 vs. MTL
vs. DC
at NY
W 2-0
W 1-0
W 1-0
3 08/04/2018 to 08/18/2018 at HOU
at LAFC
vs. POR
W 1-0
W 2-0
W 3-0

The man between the posts during this strong defensive run has been none other than Tim Melia, who has become the eighth all-time MLS goalkeeper to notch at least 10 shutouts in back-to-back regular seasons. Melia leads the league with 10 clean sheets this year, equaling his career-high from last season's MLS Goalkeeper of the Year campaign.

GOALKEEPERS WITH 10+ SHUTOUTS IN TWO STRAIGHT SEASONS
(MLS REGULAR SEASON, ALL-TIME)

Player Club Season(s) Shutouts
Matt Reis NE Revolution
NE Revolution
NE Revolution
2005
2006
2007
10
10
10
Jon Busch Chicago Fire
Chicago Fire
2008
2009
10
10
Kasey Keller Seattle Sounders
Seattle Sounders
2009
2010
10
11
Nick Rimando Real Salt Lake
Real Salt Lake
Real Salt Lake
2010
2011
2012
14
13
12
Jimmy Nielsen Sporting KC
Sporting KC
2012
2013
15
13
David Ousted Vancouver Whitecaps
Vancouver Whitecaps
2014
2015
13
13
Luis Robles New York Red Bulls
New York Red Bulls
2016
2017
11
10
Tim Melia Sporting KC
Sporting KC
2017
2018
10
10

Sporting KC fans have grown well-accustomed to Melia excelling in goal, especially against the Portland Timbers. He now owns five shutouts in six-regular season appearances against the side with a 0.17 goals against average and a 95.8 save percentage.

On Saturday, the torrid Timbers were kept off the scoresheet for the eighth time in their last 10 MLS meetings with Sporting KC dating back to 2014.

SPORTING KC'S LAST 10 REGULAR SEASON MATCHES VS. PORTLAND

Date H/A Result
06/27/2014 Away W 1-0
03/21/2015 Home T 0-0
09/09/2015 Away T 0-0
10/03/2015 Away W 1-0
07/31/2016 Home W 1-0
08/07/2016 Away L 0-3
04/15/2017 Away W 1-0
07/01/2017 Home T 1-1
06/09/2018 Away T 0-0
08/18/2018 Home W 3-0

"It was a very good game for us tonight," Vermes said. "I think we played very well. We moved the ball and we made the ball do the work. The ball never gets tired. We moved the ball and the other team had to run quite a bit. I thought we did a really good job of exposing them in certain areas of the field where they were late because they just couldn’t’ run any more."

Sporting KC will play for their fourth successive win next Saturday at Children’s Mercy Park, hosting regional rivals Minnesota United FC at 7:30 p.m. CT. Tickets for the match are available via SeatGeek.com as the club hosts its second annual Sporting Salutes, an immersive military appreciation night honoring past and present service members of the United States Armed Forces.

But before wrapping up this edition of Beyond The Box Score, it's time to visit one of the quirkier statistics ever explored in this series. 

Sporting KC's last four MLS matches played on palindrome dates, using the M-DD-YY format, have yielded four wins, 11 goals scored and zero goals conceded.

SPORTING KC ON PALINDROME DATES: M-DD-YY FORMAT
MLS REGULAR SEASON (ALL-TIME)

Date Opponent Result
7/07/07 at LA Galaxy T 2-2
9/09/09 at D.C. United L 0-1
3/16/13 vs. Chicago Fire T 0-0
4/19/14 vs. Montreal Impact W 4-0
6/19/16 vs. FC Dallas W 2-0
8/11/18 at LAFC W 2-0
8/18/18 vs. Portland Timbers W 3-0

Oh, and in case you missed what Johnny Russell did for a nine-year-old super fan who was celebrating her birthday last night, grab a tissue and enjoy below.

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